Thursday, 23 May 2013

Bêtise

Some Mother Do 'Ave 'Em, Michele Dotrice, Michael Crawford, Bétise
'Betty's Frank Spencer'
(even now Betty has the ability to arrest my complete attention)

BÊTISE

Noun. Plural pronounced same. Early 19th century.
[French = stupidity, from bête foolish from Old French beste beast.]

A foolish, ill-timed remark or action; a piece of folly.

Part of the problem with beautiful French words like bêtise is not only remembering them in the first place but also remembering how they're pronounced (especially tricky if, like me, you're not a French speaker). However, I do believe I've discovered a rather easy mnemonic for bêtise, French for stupidity, and adopted into English to mean a foolish or ill-timed remark or action.

Frank Spencer from Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em is a classic character from British 1970s television, together with his long-suffering (and ridiculously beautiful) wife Betty. Although the programme was largly based around slapstick humour (the hugely talented Michael Crawford renowned for his own stuntwork), Frank's half-wittery was also expressed through his inept and foolish speech, especially when trying to find a job. When it inevitably ends in disaster, one of Frank's catchphrases is 'Ooooh Betty!', a catchphrase that is still commonly echoed across Britain today, especially by those who aren't particularly good at doing impersonations but like to give it a try anyway.

So, to remember bêtise and its pronunciation, just think of 'Betty's Frank Spencer'. If you say that phrase in a French accent, you'll never have any problem remembering either the word or its pronunciation again (granted, this only works if you're British or are familiar with 1970s British television - if you're not, then I'm afraid you'll just have to learn it, and you really should, because it's a smashingly lovely word indeed).

10 comments:

  1. I can only imagine some (most) of the conversations they had. Seems like he didn't even know how the baby came to be... Did they ever have the baby?

    RYC: Thanks for your concern, Ed. Things are feeling much better today. :) Hope you've been well :)

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    1. I seem to recall the baby was a lovely little girl called Jessica.

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    2. Yes, I think you're right Sally. At some point I will work a clip of some of his stunts into a post - they really are amazing. Oh, the heady days before Health & Safety, eh?

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  2. I don't want to remember this pronunciation, or this word itself for that matter, because I think it aptly describes most of what I do and say.

    Yesterday, playing soccer, I made a comment of such vile insensitivity, that the circuits of my mind which are responsible for decency and self-respect clawed ineffectually at the fringes of the abhorrent words as they left my mouth, and were sadly unable to prevent them being liberally distributed over the ears of the other players.

    I hang my head and wait for Betty, or someone else of her pretty, consoling ilk, to soothe me.

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    1. *pats head* there there, we all say bad things sometimes, don't worry about it too much.

      Unless there were kids present or involved. Then watch your potty mouth, uhm... young (?)... uhm... person (?).

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    2. Hmm. Have you become the Luis Suarez of your local midweek football league? If so (and I'm approaching this from a purely lexicographical angle), I don't think it could be described as a bêtise, which is a 'foolish or ill-timed remark'. Your own description of 'vile insensitivity' doesn't really match, as it doesn't carry the inadvertence of simple foolishness or ill-timing.

      But that's good, right? You must feel better, because you thought you had made a bêtise but, in fact, you hadn't.

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    3. I want to reply to this at length, but I just found out that we each only get a fixed quota of words at birth, and I'm having to ration mine now after a heated discussion with a homeopath who didn't understand that if you keep diluting the juice, after a while you won't be able to taste the juice, and in the end there is no juice.

      Be careful O benevolent Lexicolator. Don't use up all your precious words on us sinful mortal sinners.

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  3. Ed, take this comment down quickly before I emit a body-building-blog-trolling-impertinence-related bêtise and bibi has to sooth me again.

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    1. What comment? *This* comment? Why are you referencing body-building blogs? Here's a body-building blog if you really want one. Honestly, though, I really think you need to work on the difference between off-topic comments and on-topic comments.

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  4. I apologize, Big Brother has already destroyed any evidence of any offensive double-speak.

    I just *bêtise* hate it when *bêtise* idiots try to peddle their *bêtise* products on Lexicolatry.

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